ONE OF the worst things a doctor can do to a patient is to give wrong diagnosis. It is n common cause that such negligence may mean a wrong prescription, resulting in fatal ending. Strangely this also applies to political formations. Every now and then, a political organisation relies on its bonafide membership for future direction. In most modern political formations, the diagnosis of the state of the organisation, its direction and leadership is discussed and resolved during a conference or a congress.
However, there are situations where a party may be forced to act between formal organization forums, and this usually just after the elections, when its results are dismal. Unfortunately for the once strong IFP both scenarios are a reality in terms of the party’s constitution, the elective congress is long overdue. This year alone, the meeting has been postponed more than twice with the leadership raising issues of unorganized branches and internal conflicts as the main reasons for such a move.
On the other hand, the party recently performed badly in the national poles, with some already predicting that the worst is yet to come in the 2011 local government elections. It is true that in politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion in variable wins. This we see from the IFP of 2010, which is a shadow of its former self. The party has become insignificant in our national politics. Its leader is ridiculed almost everyday in newspaper cartoons, its own members exchange insults in the media while people expelled and courts are used to address what could be turned as internal party processes. Sure for an organisation that always presents itself as the custodian of respect and family values, these developments are shocking.
But perhaps what is alarming is how some in the organization, including those recently expelled; wrongly diagnose the party’s misfortunes. In citing the state of the organization, many use two terms leadership and change. Again, in politics, these are more popular but less understood terms and worse when they are used out of context which, in my view is the case with many in the IFP. As a result, people end up discussing personalities instead of demonstrating the character of leadership and change envisaged.
The confusion and wrong diagnosis is, as we are all witnessing, fast taking the breath out of the party of the Rev. Celani Mthethwa, Pinky Kunene, Themba Khoza, Mandla Shabalala, iNkosi Nyanga Ngubane, Willington Sabelo and Faith Gasa. Strangely all the developments are experienced when our democracy needs a strong IFP with less than a year before the year government elections, confused members and undecided voters are rightly pondering the future of the IFP. How will a change of leadership guarantee stability and change of fortunes? Well, as the saying goes, if you are in a hole and you want to come out, the first intelligent thing to do is to stop digging.
It is the time for the party to stop digging and rigorously examine its misfortunes, and it is my submission that an objective diagnosis of the IFP today will at least reveal three things about the party and its current misfortunes. First, that the party’s loss is owed to the unfortunate environment that is experienced by most opposition parties in the continent. A conspicuous feature of the post colonial, post apartheid era has been the rise of liberation movement government’s lead by former liberation movements and weakening, and sometimes demise, of opposition parties.
As such in SA the post apartheid era has been characterized by the increasing dominance of the ANC. Second, that the organizations misfortunes have nothing to do with the particular individual, but all to do with the IFP as a brand. When South Africans voted for other parties instead of the IFP at national and provincial levels, they actually rejected not individuals on the IFP and posters on the voters but, rather, the IFP brand.
Thirdly, the party will realize that during recent national poles, many candidates lacked what an American Clinical Psychologist and political strategist, Drew Westen, called “kerb appeal”. “Kerb appeal” is the feeling voters get when the “drive by” a candidate a few times on television and radio, and form an emotional impression. Much of that impression comes from facial expressions, body language, voice quality, intonation, and subtle characteristics that fall under the rubric of non-verbal communication.
This can also be linked to the fact that the party political communication strategy remains poor and uncoordinated. Any hope for the revival will mean that the party leadership and membership accept that success in politics has less to do with brains than guts. They should accept that their party has failed at the basics defining their message, attacking their opponents, defending their heritage and inspiring voters. Many sympathetic and undecided voters might not like what their opponents stands for, but they don’t know what the IFP stands for.